In the country of the Gergesenes, a land outside Israel populated mostly by Gentiles, Jesus was confronted by two men described as being “so violent no one could pass by that way” [Mt. 8:28].
Matthew, Mark and Luke, each include unique details that enrich the meaning of this encounter. Mark relates that the possessed man had been bound by chains which he broke in half and he tore away the irons use to restrain his ankles. He is described as crying out at night like a wild animal and cutting himself with stones and “no one was able to subdue him.” [Mk. 5:3-5] The man’s agony is very great and intensified by the fact that his condition forces him to live apart from the rest of the community. He is a social outcaste.
Luke reports that for a long time “he had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but was outside naked” [Lk 8:27]. In addition to being bound with the chains and fetters, Luke adds the detail that he was also “under guard” [Lk 8:29] and still he would break loose. In other words, all three Gospel accounts emphasize the torment of an affliction that was greater than human effort and ingenuity alone could overcome.
Lest we too quickly allow these two suffering souls to be eclipsed behind the label of “demoniac” reassuring ourselves that they are not like us, let’s consider that in regard to sin, we all suffer various kinds of possession. Every thought that leads our emotions, will, and rationality into captivity by attitudes and actions destructive to ourselves and others is a form of possession. This happens every day. Unnoticed and unchecked, days eventually become a lifetime of imprisonment.
Without the help of God we cannot get free of sin that torments us. No matter what kind of humanly devised restraints we attempt to place on ourselves, the illusions that beguile us and the passions that possess us tempt us to break these restraints apart. One of the eventual founders of Alcoholic Anonymous had been the patient of a famous psychiatrist who after a lengthy and unsuccessful analysis told him, ‘I have come to believe the only thing that will help you is a religious conversion and I have been unsuccessful in trying to help that happen.‘
A religious conversion? Hmmmm…
The first thing that makes our possession refractory to treatment is that we don’t realize our true captivity. We don’t realize that we need spiritual help to diagnose and treat a condition that is beyond human ability to recognize apart from divine grace. Not realizing our real situation, we don’t think we have much to confess. Maybe we console ourselves with the thought that it is those other kinds of people who are in need of grace: demoniacs: drug addicts, vagrants, mentally ill, felons, homeless persons, illegal aliens.
I can console myself that after all, “I haven’t murdered anyone. I haven’t stolen anything or committed a crime. I am a decent person, a good citizen. I give to charity and I am thankful for what I have…” Self-satisfaction is itself a dangerous captivity that we need help to overcome.
St. Theophan the Recluse describes this seemingly normal situation as one in which we are spiritually asleep to our true condition without realizing it. He points out that in contrast to worldly self-satisfaction, a sure sign of the person who is being saved is in fact, dissatisfaction with oneself. Such a person is not satisfied by… “his accomplishments or possessions, even if he has incalculable wealth. He finds no consolation in visible things.” 
The “dissatisfaction with oneself” of which St. Theophan speaks is not some kind of psychological moroseness or a puritanical inability to appreciate and enjoy life. It is not a depression or a problem of poor self-esteem, but more like a friend once described it, “a sanctified dissatisfaction” in response to having encountered the divine energies of Grace. The person who is actively repenting has much to confess because God is invisibly engendering love and humility in the heart and a struggle to be faithful to God begins in response.
If we have no struggle; if we do not realize that spiritually speaking, we are in darkness and living among the dead because of the passions and sin infecting us in our normal lives, then we will not cry out to God in prayer and repentance, and struggle to acquire the Holy Spirit in order to be free to respond to Christ in love as he does us. Struggle with sin is born out of love for God which cannot be satisfied with what it is possible to achieve or have in our lives as the “self-made” man or woman we imagine ourselves to be. Once the love for God begins to claim our hearts, the world is not enough and neither are we, until Christ is all in all.
St. Theophan points out that our capacity for complacency and satisfaction through self-indulgence and the illusion of self-sufficiency has many supports and comes in various forms, all of which seek to build the house of the soul on worldly accomplishments and satisfaction of appetites without having begun to long for God’s presence.
“For example, there is sensuality, luxury, lustfulness, love of merrymaking, fondness of pleasures, trouble and care over everyday things, love of honor, love of power, perceptible success in one’s affairs, and prosperity. There is a desire to be outwardly attractive, have valuable connections, and be sophisticated in external relations. There is fondness of arts, learning, and ventures. All this in the various forms constitutes a firm support for our selfishness, which, with certainty in its reliability and solidity, calmly rests upon it and, being amply nourished, grows from day to day, in one way chiefly in one person, in another way in someone else.” 
When Grace comes to us, we are awakened to the realization that “man does not live by bread alone.” [Mt. 4:4] and begin to taste and see that “Your love is greater than life itself.” [Psalm 63:3]. When Grace comes to us, a new kind of struggle begins. In response to the longing for God whom we cannot acquire by our own efforts, we begin to awaken to our actual condition which is separation from God by possession of many passions.
Elder Sergius of Vanves explains that passions are like mud settled at the bottom of a pond. Things seem calm and clear on the surface, but this is not true peace. As the worldly foundations upon which self-indulgence and illusions of self-sufficiency rest are challenged and our heart begins to long for God, all sorts of passions are stirred up from the depths and become visible all over the place, disturbing the peace, like a great swarm of gnats. We are then faced with the struggle between love for God above all or settling back into easy captivity, continuing to make the same choice as Adam and Eve [Gen. 3], seeking to grasp and enjoy the world without first offering it up to God in thanksgiving asking for his blessing before receiving it.
St. Theophan points out that to awaken man from his slumber, and save him, God’s love has arranged conditions so as to expose the addictions that substitute themselves for real life.
“He who is enslaved by pleasing the flesh shall fall ill, and, by weakening the flesh, shall give the spirit freedom and power to come to its senses and become sober. He who is preoccupied with his own attractiveness and strength shall be deprived of this attractiveness and kept in a state of utter exhaustion. He who finds refuge in his own power and strength shall be subject to slavery and humiliation. He who relies greatly on his wealth shall have it taken from him. He who shows off great learnedness shall be put to shame. He who relies on solid personal connections shall have them cut off. He who counts on the permanence of order established around him shall have it destroyed by the death of people he knows or the loss of essential material possessions. Is there any way to sober up those kept in the bonds of indifference through outward happiness other than by sorrows and grief? Isn’t our life filled with misfortunes so that it may assist with the divine intention of keeping us sober?” 
It is as if we awaken on Christmas day, thrilled with all the presents before us. As we dive in enjoying everything, perhaps like the ten lepers Jesus healed [Lk.17:18] only one is more grateful to the Giver of life than for the gift of new life he has received. This is the tragedy represented by Adam and Eve in the Garden that plagues all humankind. Grasping life without first offering it and receiving it back as a blessing from God, we become slaves of what we sought to grasp and everything is spoiled.
Imagine someone asking, “Will you marry me. I love all the gifts you bring me: your beautiful body, your money, your hard work in my behalf…”
Understandably you reply, ‘I’m glad you like all these gifts I bring you, but what about me?
Imagine how you feel when the response is, “No worries. The gifts are enough.”
Tragic. What each one of us most desires is to be visible to another as we really are and to be loved for ourselves. This is the gift God offers each of us and hopes in return to be desired by us above all else.
The real food that nourishes human being cannot be obtained from the created order apart from divine Grace. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the Mouth of God.” [Mt 4:4] therefore Jesus taught us to pray “Give us daily this bread for our being.” 
There is another sickness revealed in the account of the healing of the demoniacs and it is more difficult to see because when everyone is living a certain way, it becomes normal. When Jesus healed the two men of the passions that were defiling them, what had possessed them caused a herd of pigs to rush down the banks into the water and drown. The whole village came out to see the person who was responsible for this. The action he performed got their attention, but their response was to ask him to leave their town.
This is what each one of us do as a community when we make decisions that allow us to remain comfortable and satisfied with our lives without becoming interested in finding a way that includes the healing of the least among us if it comes at the expense of our comforts. In so doing we ignore the words of Jesus reminding us of our unity in him when he said, “Whatever you have done unto the least of these you have done unto me.” [Mt 25:40]
In family therapy the “identified patient” is the person who becomes symptomatic because a family isn’t willing to look at or correct its problems. Maybe it is an abusive husband or a couple who argue constantly and mistreat each other in front of the children. Maybe a mother needs another drink more than she needs to care for her children or she subtly guilts other members of the family, blaming everyone and making excuses. Maybe she withdraws wrapped in a mantle of depression that deprives her children of her protection, love and warmth. A child often is the lightning rod that absorbs the anxiety and reflects the tension and conflict that is the unacknowledged “elephant” in the room.”
Even if we have once known the reorienting fire of Grace in our heart, failure to struggle to continue cleansing the heart with repentance and confession on a regular basis gradually, through lack of care and attention, can mean losing our way and lapsing again into the sleep of self-indulgence and worldly complacencies. Then our state is worse than before. Lest we again think we are unlike these villagers, St. Theophan points out how untended, the awakening energies of grace can give way to the desire for worldly satisfaction even to the point of hatred of God”
“The more often these falls are repeated the weaker the corrective impulse becomes, because his heart becomes as it were accustomed to falling and sinful falls pass into the realm of everyday occurrences of the soul’s life. Along with such a diminution, it ceases to be an energetic feeling according to its character, approaching ever nearer the realm of thought, and finally becoming nothing more than a simple thought and recollection. This thought is accepted for a while in agreement, but then is only tolerated, albeit without displeasure, but coldly, without any particular attention. After this it becomes tiresome, something to be removed as quickly as possible Finally it becomes unpleasant and repugnant—the sinner not only dislikes it, but hates it, hounds it and persecutes it. Correspondingly, the conviction that a better life is even necessary begins to fall away. At first the need for change appears as only probable. Later it becomes veiled in doubts in the form of questions about its various aspects, and yet later it appears even more useless and extraneous. Finally, the inward decision is made to “live as you like—it is alright to live this way. All of the rest is just excessive trouble.” Here is where a man has fallen into the depths of evil and carelessness. His state is that of one who had never once been awakened.” 
Perhaps now we can understand how tragic it is that after Jesus healed the demoniacs, the villagers asked him to leave their town. They preferred the satisfactions and benefits of herding pigs which was their livelihood. They were unresponsive to the miracle of the Lord raising these two men from the spiritual dead and restoring them to their community. Something greater than the life these villagers knew was among them and in rejecting Jesus they showed themselves to be demoniacs as well—the respectable kind whose illness goes unrecognized and untreated, often at the expense of others who become the symptom-bearers of society’s sickness.
Unless we realize that we are in the same shape and facing the same struggles as both the demoniacs and the villagers, we are deceived. As the true state of our condition is revealed and we begin to grow in grace, we will more and more begin to struggle with whatever gets in the way of our relationship with Christ. We will begin to cry out “as one living among the tombs of the dead” [Mk 5:1-5] for the help that comes from beyond us. When this begins to happen, we are on the path to salvation.
Like St. Paul, we have begun to realize acutely the awesome freedom and response-ability that arises on the path which stretches between heaven and earth in response to divine grace. “The good that I would do I do not and the evil that I would not do that I do! Wretched man that I am, who will free me from this body of death.” [Rom.7:24] With St. Paul let us cry out with our whole hearts and our whole minds, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! [Rom 7:25].
 Origen (184-253 AD) points out that during his time all three Gospels had the translation of “Gerasenes” (Mt 8:28-34; Mk 5:1-17; Lk 8:26–37). He pointed out that the country of Gerasa is in Arabia (Gilead) near neither sea nor lake and states that the disciples who knew Judea well would never have made such a mistake. Gadara, which was found in some manuscripts, is a city in Judea famous for its baths, but there is no lake or sea in it that is adjacent to precipices. Gergesa, however, is an ancient city by the Lake of Tiberias with a steep precipice beside the lake. Furthermore, Origen notes that the name Gergesa means “the habitation of those that cast out” and suggests that perhaps this is related to the inhabitants having asked Jesus to depart from their coast. From Origen’s time some scribes copying the Gospels changed Gerasenes to “Gergesenes” perhaps in response to Origen’s observations. Commentary in Joannem, T. 2. P 131, Ed. Huet. Hastings Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/g/gerasenes-gergesenes.html
 St. Theophan the Recluse, The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation, St. Herman of Alaska Brother, 1996, p 110.
 Ibid, pp.112-113
 Ibid, 124-125
 Mt 6:11 – Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa and other Holy Fathers recognized that the Greek words in the prayer pointed to a bread for our being that was more than physical nourishment. Christians understand that we pray for the Eucharistic Bread that grafts us into Christ, forgiving our sins and healing our hearts, introducing us to Eternal Life that we cannot achieve apart from God’s love.
 Op.Cit. pp.113.